Wall Street history

Meet David Lamar: The Original ‘Wolf of Wall Street’

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By Ken Zurski

Con artist and market scalper David Lamar was considered the original “Wolf of Wall Street,” a distinction revived in recent years by a Hollywood movie about a more contemporary stock swindler named Jordan Belfort and a role played by an A-list actor named Leonardo DiCaprio who won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Belfort in the 2013 film.

The movie plays up the lavish lifestyle and and often times rebellious behavior of Belfort,  who spent nearly two years in prison for his role in a fraud scheme. Belfort wrote a book about his exploits, hence the movie, and self-titled it, “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Leonardo DiCaprio in “Wolf of Wall Street”

Leonardo DiCaprio’s blistering performance aside, Jordan Belfort had nothing on the original “Wolf of Wall Street,” David Lamar who in the early part of the 20th century first carried that dubious moniker, assigned by others, and metaphorically referring to a “wolf” as a “rapacious, ferocious, or voracious person.”

Although his successes and failures has been debated over the years, Lamar’s brash, cutthroat tactics are the stuff of legends. For example, Lamar once impersonated a US Senator in hopes of taking the floor and driving down steel prices while he unabashedly shorted the stock.

Lamar was arrested and sent to jail several times and was once accused of having a man beaten who was ready to testify against him. His boldest swindle may have been against a Rockefeller, John Jr. , who spent a million dollars of his wealthy father’s money to buy leather stock, only to watch Lamar sell it off.

David Lamar

On January 12 1934, at the age of 56, Lamar was found dead in a modestly priced hotel room in New York City. In his room police found $138 in cash, a suit a hat, a can, a gold watch and chain, and gold cuff links. That was all which remained from a fortune which at one time was estimated in the millions.

The day after his death, an obituary dispatch appeared in newspapers throughout the country.

It read:

It isn’t so much the loss of wealth in David Lamar’s life which excites curiosity, as it is an appreciation of struggles through which it passed. He had one blinding ambition, and that was huge profits through sly operations on the stock market. What he hoped to gain was not wealth, but power and recognition.  He had wealth – this strange man. It didn’t mean a great deal to him. On many occasions, he could have retired and lived lavishly and luxuriously, as he did live when in purple, on a great estate in New Jersey at one time and in a mansion on Fifth Avenue at another. Always his ambition drove him on and when he found his path blocked by legal obstacles, it was charged he was none to scrupulous in cutting his way through them. He divided his time between estate and mansion and jail. We said Lamar must have suffered. The only punishment which could be meted out to him was his own conscience. He was contemptuous and indifferent outwardly to what people said of him, what they thought of him and how they created him. He had his own code and his own rule for living. It was a most bizarre, a most extraordinary one. He took delight in good clothes, in good food, in a cosmopolitan. The mysterious Stock Market operations of the Wolf of Wall Street have been ended by death.

The paper’s vitriolic assessment seems to be on the mark. Several years before his death, even a lawyer meant to represent him, conceding to his client’s reputation.

“The name of David Lamar seems to be anathema,” he said.